On Amy Garrett’s wall is a framed copy of a message from the son-in-law of a Pearl Harbor veteran whom she represented in a mesothelioma case.
“This thank-you note that I got from his family said this was the first settlement they got from the lawsuit,” she said. “They booked a family trip to Hawaii so my client could show his children and grandchildren where he had been on the most significant day of his life. Without my help, he would never have been able to fulfill that lifelong dream of his of sharing that experience with his family.”
Though she may have brought in millions in settlements, such anecdotes give genuine meaning to Garrett’s work on the asbestos-management team at Simmons Hanly Conroy. A native of Macoupin County, Illinois, Garrett has been at her firm for a decade and a half. She became a partner in 2009.
Helping others has always been a part of her recipe for success. Garrett’s first job out of Washington University School of Law was with Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance. From there, she moved on to become a prosecutor in nearby Madison County. At her present firm, she has argued a precedent-setting asbestos matter before the Illinois Supreme Court.
“I enjoy the work that I do and that my firm does because we represent individuals against large corporations, so I always get to feel like I am representing the underdog,” she said.
That’s also been the philosophy behind donating her time as well. She founded her firm’s pro bono program, which was eventually honored with the John C. McAndrews Pro Bono Service Award and the Joseph R. Bartylak Memorial Legal Services Award from the Illinois State Bar Association. She serves on the 3rd Judicial Circuit’s Pro Bono Committee. In 2008, she partnered with the Veterans’ Legal Support Clinic to train downstate Illinois attorneys to handle claims before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
These days, both she and the firm perform legal work to help people expunge their criminal records in order to boost their chances of obtaining better housing or employment.
“Every time we have these events, there are one or two people who really sort of get to me because they have such compelling stories about why they made mistakes earlier in their lives and what about their life changed to make them realize they needed to stop making those mistakes,” Garrett said. “Now, they really do just want to improve either their own lives or the lives of their children. I love feeling like we have the knowledge and the capability to help them do that.”
She also is part of a committee to help drivers get their suspended licenses reinstated, a process that can reduce recidivism by making it easier to find a job.
Whatever she’s doing, she still sees the same promise in the law’s ability to change lives that convinced her to go to law school in the first place.
“I was awestruck by how studying the law could really impact the lives of so many people on such a grand scale,” she said.